Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Too Much of Too Many Things

Not long ago, I was informally looking at someone's research and teaching record, as a prelude to their tenure evaluation. This was not in any official evaluation capacity (I was not writing a letter), and this was not someone at my own university. It was more of a "take a look at this CV and see if you think this person has a chance" kind of thing.

Based only on what I saw in the research record, this person has little or no chance of receiving tenure at their university, which expects a certain amount of activity with respect to publications and grants.

But then I looked at what this person has done in terms of teaching and advising, just in terms of time spent on these activities (I had no information about quality), and it was a lot. It was immense, considering that the university also had moderate research expectations of its science faculty.

I am missing some important information about this situation, such as whether this person could have decreased the number of courses taught by obtaining grants and 'buying' out teaching time, but just from what I saw, it seemed like there was a huge mismatch between expectations (by the university) and what was humanly possible (for the tenure-track professor).

I have written before about how I feel fortunate that my job has a good balance of teaching-research-service in terms of expectations/time for each. If all of these components of the job are valued by the university, and if we are evaluated based on how well we do with each of them, then we need time to do them. That seems obvious, but I know there is disagreement in the land about how professors should spend their time.

I should note that my positive view of the teaching-research-service balance in my current job is not just based on how I feel now, as a tenured professor; I felt the same way as an assistant professor, at least in terms of teaching and research expectations. I did feel that I was doing more service work, particularly in the department, than some of my peers, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle (and I believed that I could have said no to some of the committee work, without consequences, if I had wanted to).

I also realize that just because I think my job has a good balance (and I would say the same thing for my job at my previous university), that doesn't mean that everyone else thinks the same thing about their similar professor-jobs in my department/university. The reasons why I have this positive view are many and complex, including my being happy to work a lot, enjoying doing many different things (though not necessarily too many or all at the same time), and the flexibility of of my department in determining teaching schedules.


Do you feel that you have a good (reasonable) balance of what your institution expects you to do? Or is there a big mismatch between, say, teaching load and research expectations? (It would be helpful to specify career stage, discipline, general type of institution.)

If you do feel there is a big mismatch, do you think this is a general feeling shared by your colleagues in your department/institution, or is there a lot of variability within your unit? Is there anything that can be done about this mismatch, or is it hopeless in the face of widespread belief that professors don't teach enough, and yet should also be pulling in the big grants and publishing in Nature or Science every few months, while serving on 9 committees and doing outreach?

If you feel that there is a good balance in your job, is this also a widespread view in your department/institution, and is there someone in particular responsible for creating this good work environment? (dept chair, college dean, provost, president..).

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